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12 Sep Clarity Feature Story: Adrian Ang – The Dynamic Mindshifter

Just watch Adrian Ang speak. There is dynamism in the air. His booming voice comes across loud and clear. Even to an audience of one. You could sense he is deep in thought as he engages you in conversation. That encapsulates how he presents himself during an interview on life as a trainer and career coach.

With years of cumulative training and coaching experience under his belt – nine of them with e2i, Adrian is a career coach of special breed. Armed with head knowledge and lots of gumption, he was recruited by e2i to be one of its pilot trainers in 2007.

The 20,000-plus trainees from previous training sessions bear testimony to the man’s credibility as a dynamic trainer. Under Adrian’s charge, the average success rate in securing work through their effort has been a creditable 70%. In some instances, the rate has spiked to 100%, and there are records to prove it.

Adrian talks unabashedly of his experience and the fluid job market scenario. “My training sessions have enabled me to understand the mindset and behaviour of job seekers, and the issues they faced. Some age-old issues such as productivity and multi-disciplinary competencies still exist. However, the rules of engagement have changed. Welcome to a new world of work. As responsible trainers and career coaches, we must attune ourselves to trending corporate culture across the board.”

Coach mentor, trainer, entrepreneur, chief executive officer and visionary: Adrian wears all these hats. At 38, the CEO of the Centre for Career Excellence (CCE) still cuts a sturdy figure in the startup firm at Jurong East. He has a Master’s degree in education from Murdoch University.

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CCE: Adrian, please tell us how you got into the training/coaching profession.

Adrian: To start with, I spent the bulk of my working life in training, having taught thousands of career aspirants and job seekers since 2003. Many of them were mature job-seeking PMETs. The passion to be involved in training/coaching has been in me since my youth. That explains why I chose to study for a degree in education, after which I decided to venture into this growth industry. Nine years ago, NTUC’s e2i enlisted me as one of its pilot trainers. Since then, I have been in this business of training and coaching adults on employability skills. Regardless of the age and composition of the trainees and coachees under my charge, I am glad to say that I was able to deliver most of the time.

CCE: Let’s get to the basics. How different is coaching from training?

Adrian: Be it training, coaching, mentoring, counselling – these are tools with different approaches to moulding a career. However, all of them have the same objective – to achieve career excellence. Through constructive discussions with the coach as a facilitator, the coachee is more likely to reach his goal faster than if he were to source on his own. This is very much achievable through coaching.

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CCE: So are you saying that coaching is an extension of training?

Adrian: Let me draw some comparisons. A trainer facilitates lively discussions in a class and helps the trainees to understand and apply job skills. Training essentially equips them with the competency skills to raise their chances at filling job placements. A coach, however, has to be upfront on a one-to-one encounter with the coachee, to be able to counter the challenges and work with the real issues troubling the coachee so as to impart practical advice and solutions exclusively to him. It is a different ball game altogether. There are no one-size fits all to coaching as compared to training.

To give you an analogy, training is like a flu jab. Recipients of the jab can stay immune from the flu, probably for a few weeks. But a flu jab may not suffice for some individuals who feel the need for a prescriptive model. That’s where a career coach comes in.

CCE: You and I know that not every client is stereotyped. You might have a reserved coachee who is bogged by peripheral issues, be it personal, financial or family; he keeps them to himself. How then will you be able to bring out the hidden skeletons and address his woes?

Adrian: I agree with that statement. Typically, the first coaching encounter is a get-to-know-you session. On hand are profiling career pathfinder tools that can equip the coach, to enable him to quickly size up the client’s background. It would reveal the client’s current standing, financial status quo, any form of support from family, government, emotional and psychological state of mind, and so on. It serves as a prognosis of the client himself. But let’s put the case in perspective. A career coach should tackle only relevant issues at hand, job-wise. All other concerns (e.g. financial, legal, domestic, psychological) should be referred – and are best left – to the respective specialist agencies.

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CCE: You have been in this training/coaching profession for many years. What makes a good effective career coach?

Adrian: As mentioned earlier, the coach would be able to better understand the coachee from the latter’s profile, and his needs as well. In a nutshell, the coach should walk the career path with him, highlight to him where the gaps are, plot the milestones to close those gaps, chart a timeline and then come out with an action plan together. A coach does not tell the client what to do. However, he can throw up viable options with pros and cons, and offer realistic solutions without narrowing down to any one of them. Of course it is reassuring to the client that the coach is there to guide and assist him in his career path. Ultimately, it is the client who has to decide. Finally and key to all the other requisites, a good coach is driven by passion to always have the interests of the coachee at heart. The desire and the devotion to commit to the profession is of uppermost importance.

CCE: That was indeed an elaborate answer. It sheds much light on how pertinent the CCS (Career Coaching Skills) course is. Should a career coach conform to standards and shun out-of-the-box solutions?

Adrian: Each client is an individual with different needs. So a coach should not stick to set patterns and offer stereotype answers. If you delve deeper into it, you will see that career coaching is a niche profession. Coaching, like engineering, is a science. Psychometric tools are relevant applications in assessing character traits. You need to analyse and observe your client’s strengths and weaknesses. Highlight his talents and abilities, for instance, if he has taken them for granted.

Let’s look from another perspective. Take a cooking competition. Each contestant is given similar pots and pans, and similar ingredients. Yet, each one is capable of dishing out a meal according to his creation! Likewise, a shrewd coach would be capable of creating strategic routes for consideration, though the final decision is left to the client. Again, the routes differ with each client. The coach has to conduct a self-check: How can I take this particular coachee to greater heights? Which tactic would boost this client’s chances at securing the position he aspires?

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CCE: Maybe you could cite two past cases in which you helped resolve as career coach?

Adrian: The first case involved a close acquaintance. He would reject outright available overseas postings deemed suitable for his profile. He would insist on finding work here in Singapore, being a devoted family man. I advised him to look at the big picture and to discuss thoroughly with his family members. After a heart-wrenching session, he decided to take that giant step. He was convinced and had gained his family’s trust. Today, he is still with that overseas company and able to maintain family ties.

About the second case, the coachee seemed to look tired and disinterested for the first two sessions. The third time we met, having sensed that it would be futile to conduct another one-sided sit-down session, I closed my laptop and suggested to him to take a stroll in the park with me. The ruse worked and it livened him up; the client had responded well. Thereon, we engaged in discussion with each walk in the park. Through the walks, we agreed to set out the objectives, and came up with action plans. All that while, it didn’t occur to me that he was the kinesthetic type! So a coach also needs to think out of the box. That’s why I see coaching as an art.

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CCE: In your view, what prospects are there in career coaching?

Adrian: To answer your question, attending a training session in class or studying an online programme is useful to an individual yearning to learn competency skills but it has its limit. Hot and cold jobs will change status quo rapidly to cater to market demand, even as economic trends fluctuate. Serious career aspirants and job seekers tend to seek personalised advice on gaining employability. This group is likely to grow as the work environment becomes more sophisticated in the modern era. In light of this, the need for marketable career coaches with drive and passion will increase. Incidentally, career coaching has been prevalent in the west. It is relatively new and will pick up over time.

CCE Aha! Therein lies the rationale for CCE to starting the CCS programme. But seriously, looking further ahead, what are the long-term plans for CCE and its graduate coaches?

Adrian: I had this dream the other day. That one day, Singapore and Asia would have a thriving community of professional career coaches – each with a heart for the PMETS. These coaches would be the guiding light to PMETs, who would transit into a new world of barrier-free work and adapt quickly to digital-age technology in the workplace. To gain a foothold on this future scenario, I dreamt of a contingency plan in place. The breed of quality coaches would engage actively with a wider circle of professionals from the industry, comprising employers, NTUC’s U Future Leaders and officials from MOM and MTI. I hope the dream can be realised and that CCE can be the catalyst to jumpstart this bold vision.

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~ CCE

Written by Harry Tan

Harry began working on his passion for writing with a leisure weekly. He then picked up copyediting and proofreading skills, working on college textbooks, annual reports and travel guides. Currently, he offers freelance editorial services. A Peranakan Singaporean, Harry enjoys small talk and long walks. He loves planning train-bus journeys and has gone on several DIY road trips to Japan, Britain and Germany. Harry is a RACE graduate.

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